Emperor Franz Joseph
The government lost control of events and in March 1848, a revolution was to take hold in Austria.
Metternich was forced to resign and fled to London. The Emperor abdicated in favour of his brother’s son, Franz Joseph.
At the same time in Germany, nationalists and liberals had formed the Frankfurt Assembly and suspended the German Confederation, a move that later paved the way to German unification.
The conflict between the different ethnic nationalist and liberal ideologies in Germany started to grow and ethnic Germans from Bohemia who were presently represented at the Frankfurt Assembly forced Czech nationalists and liberals to review their position and to plan their own constitution for the unification of the Slavs within the Habsburg Empire, this to prevent any attempt by Germany to expand its influence on the Slavic parts of central and southern Europe.
These moves together with the liberal reforms in Hungary led to the Austrian Emperor being forced to allow a constitutional assembly and the first parliament in Austrian history being opened in July 1848.
The Austrian army under General Windischgrätz re-established law and order in Vienna and Prague by use of military force and General Radetzky regained control of Lombardy-Venetia in August 1848.
The constitution of 1849 reduced the power of the newly formed parliament and established centralisation and a government with political, legal, and economic unity within the empire.
Franz Joseph I (r.1848-1916)
The Hungarians responded by declaring Hungarian independence and Austria requested Russian military assistance to put the Hungarian rebellion down.
The idea of a united Germany “grossdeutsch” (Great Germany) that would eventually include the German provinces in Austria was becoming a political problem. Austria and Prussia continued and were constantly in conflict one against the other in an attempt to gain support for leadership within the German confederation.
At the same time Austria was suffering under the political pressure from Britain and France, which were then allied to Turkey against Russia. Russia had asked Austria for support and Austria tried to negotiate a solution to the situation but eventually decided to join in on the side of the western allies against Russia. Russia reacting coldly to this and withdrew previous political support for Austria, and its political difficulties in Germany and Italy.
France took advantage of the situation between Austria and Russia and intervened, giving their support to the Italian nationalists in their strive toward independence.
Austria then tried to gain support from Prussia but Franz Joseph was unwilling to make concessions to the Germans and so failed to reach any agreement.
Austria lost the war in Italy and surrendered in Lombardy in 1859 after the battle of Solferino.
Fearing further problems in Hungary, Franz Joseph began to abandon absolutism and create political stability by seeking support from the Hungarians and Slavs within the empire.
In 1862, negotiations were held with the Hungarians and the constitution of a dual monarchy was seen to be taking shape as early as 1865.
The German Confederation (1815-1866)
The German Confederation was a union of German states provided for at the Congress of Vienna to replace the Holy Roman Empire, which had been disbanded during the Napoleonic Wars.
The confederation consisting of 39 states (35 kingdoms and 4 free states), was intended to guarantee the external and internal peace of the confederation and independence of the member states.
The confederation met in Frankfurt under the presidency of Austria and required a two-thirds majority for most decisions.
The Austrian statesman Metternich, backed by Prussia, dominated the confederation until 1848 but the liberal revolutions in Germany led to the creation of the Frankfurt Parliament.
In 1850, the treaty of Olmütz restored Austrian leadership for a short time but the Austro-Prussian War in 1866 led to the dissolution of the confederation and the establishment of the North German Confederation under Prussian leadership.
The Seven Week War between Austria and Prussia
Some of the smaller German states started to see Austria as a more welcome leader instead of the growing Prussian domination within the German provinces and so in 1864 Austria realised that a conflict between Austria and Prussia was going to be the only way of gaining Austrian leadership in the confederation.
Prussia wanted to annex the Duchy of Holstein and sparked of what was later to be known as the “Seven Week War”, between Austria and Prussia in 1866. Austria and Prussia had been allies during a short war against Denmark in 1864 and managed to gain the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein.
Schleswig was put under Prussian control and Austria took over Holstein, but in 1866 Prussia started a pincer war against Austria and allied with Italy in an attempt to gain Holstein for Prussia and Venetia for Italy.
Austria tried to make an agreement with Italy and offered the province of Venetia to Italy in an attempt to keep Italy out of the war but at the end of the day, Italy decided to join in on the side of Prussia against Austria. During the following conflict Austria managed to win a few major battles against Italy but at the same time lost the decisive Battle of Königgrätz (Battle of Sadová) to Prussia in July 1866.
Austria was forced to agree to the dissolution of the German Confederation and to confirm the formation of a North German Confederation dominated by Prussia and the basis of the future German Empire of 1871 and also lost Venetia to Italy.
Bavaria, Baden, Darmstadt and Württemberg became independent provinces (Freistaat) with military and commercial ties to Prussia.
Due to the war, Austria was no longer regarded a major military power and Franz Joseph had to set out new objectives as his hope of regaining Austria’s position of leadership in the German speaking part of Europe.
Austria was determined to counter Prussian expansion in southern Germany and to make an agreement with Hungary in order to stabilise the empire in the east. The Austrian Foreign Minister (Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust) started negotiations with Hungary and finally managed to reach a compromise between Austria and Hungary in 1867.
In Austria, the ethnic German liberals held political power in parliament from 1867 to 1879. The Czech leaders were in favour of the restoration of Bohemian autonomy in the form of a Kingdom of Bohemia (including Moravia and lower Silesia).
In 1871, the government agreed to the fundamental articles, which would have reinstated the historic rights of Bohemia but the reaction from both German and Hungarian liberals led to the articles never being adopted.
The Dual Monarchy
The compromise “Ausgleich” of 1867 divided the Habsburg Empire into two separate states with equal rights but under one sovereign and became known as the Dual Monarchy “Doppelmonarchie”.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire
The two dominant nationalities in the empire were now the German and Hungarian speaking provinces which had their newly formed governments in Vienna and Budapest. They remained subject to the Emperor as monarch with almost unlimited powers regarding foreign, military and financial affairs.
Britain had withdrawn its interest on the continent and the newly formed Austro-Hungarian Empire turned to France as an ally in its strive to regain leadership in German speaking Europe. Russia was allied with Prussia and France and wanted to gain provinces in Germany at Prussia’s expense but failed to gain influence.
In 1870, France declared war on Prussia and then invaded Germany. This war became known as the Franco-Prussian War and led to the provinces in the south of Germany uniting with Prussia, thus destroying Austria’s political efforts to gain influence in those provinces and forcing Austria to stand aside and to witness the defeat of France.
The Second German Empire (Second Reich) was founded in 1871 and united all of the German speaking provinces, with the exception of Austria, together under one rule.
Due to the Hungarian influence within the Empire, Austria was to change its foreign policies regarding Russia, taking a very anti-Russian attitude. This made way for a united foreign policy and alliance between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the newly formed Second German Empire.
The new alliance with Germany brought political stability to Austria-Hungary but at the same time diminished Austria’s aspirations of taking a leading role within Germany. Prussia agreed to distance itself from German-Austrian nationalists within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ideas of the annexation of Austria (“Anschluss”).
The Austro-Hungarian Empire began to look toward Eastern Europe and the declining Turkish influence in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary was in favour of the preservation of Turkish power in that area in order to halt the expansion of Russian influence whilst seeing that Russia was a very dominant power in some of the Balkan states such as Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Rumania.
Austria-Hungary therefore made the decision to stop further chaos in the Turkish provinces by linking up with Russia, occupying Bosnia and Herzegovina but allowing Turkey to keep sovereignty over the area.
Germany was able to limit Russian gains during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) and in so doing considerably upset the German-Russian alliance.
The following “Dual Alliance”, between Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, was an agreement of mutual defence between the two powers who, if required, would defend each other in the event of a possible attack by Russia but would not involve the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a similar conflict between Germany and France unless Russia were to become involved.
The Triple Alliance between Germany, Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire mainly protected Italian and German interests but did little to resolve outstanding issues between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy.
As the eye of Europe turned away from the Balkans in the latter part of the 19th century, Africa and the Far East were to become the centre of interest for the major European powers, leaving Serbia as a problem for Austria-Hungary.
The Czech boycott of the Austrian parliament (Reichsrat) led to the domination of parliament by the German Austrian Liberals until the late 1870’s and the blocking of concessions to Czechs and Poles in the Dual Monarchy.
The Liberals opposed the annexation of Bosnia- Herzegovina and by doing so upset Franz Joseph who saw their interference as an infringement on his sovereign authority and so in 1879, with the interests of the court in mind, Franz Joseph dismissed the liberal government and turned to Eduard Taafe’s conservative party.
The ethnic German-Austrian conservatives formed the so-called “Iron Ring” together with Polish and Czech representatives with the intention of limiting the influence of the Liberals. Certain concessions were to be given to the Czechs in return for their support but sensitive issues regarding the use of the Czech language in Bohemia and problems of the ethnic German minorities in Bohemia became more obvious.
A language decree in 1880 put the Czech language on equal footing with the German language regarding Bohemian administration and law but nevertheless conflict ensued as both Czechs and ethnic Germans attempted to control matters of administration and education. Younger Czech politicians, unwilling to go along with the moderate politics of the older generation, afterwards rejected a compromise reached in 1890.
In 1905, in Moravia a compromise was agreed between the Czech majority and the ethnic German minority and as a result the Czech language and culture was legally guaranteed. New political parties were to announce their programmes of democracy and socialism was to appear upon the scene in 1900.
Tomáš Masaryk, a young Czech politician, founded the Czech People’s party (later the Progressive party) which supported parliamentary politics and rejected radicalism.
Masaryk started his struggle for Czech autonomy in its aim toward equality, autonomy and the unity of Czechs and Slovaks. He favoured the idea of changing the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a federation (Commonwealth) of self-governing nationalities.
Austria’s industrialisation and urbanisation in the late nineteenth century made Austria a partially industrialised state which stood halfway between the rural societies of most of its neighbours and the industrially advanced societies of Western Europe.
Industrialisation and urbanisation ultimately led to the beginnings of a political urban movement known as the Christian Social Party (Christlichsoziale Partei) which had strong support in Vienna and was able to control the city administration by the end of the 19th century.
The CSP was not able to establish itself amid the working classes, this due to growing influences of the Marxist Social Democratic Workers’ Party (Sozial-demokratische Arbeiterpartei) founded in 1889.
The growing anti-Semitism within the population was to lead to the foundation of the German nationalist movement and this to become the third major political movement of that time when ethnic tensions made it difficult to ignore the influence of German nationalism toward the end of the 19th century.
The German Front was to demand a special position for ethnic Germans due to their historic role in the empire and brought about conflict with other national ethnic groups within the empire.
In 1906, Russia became Serbia’s political guardian. The Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 in an attempt to prevent Turkey from increasing its political hold on the provinces.
Britain had resolved differences with France and Russia, thus paving the way for future co-operation of the three countries in the “Triple Entente”.
Russia supported by Serbia and other independent Balkan states were to form an anti-Austro-Hungarian coalition creating the “Balkan League”, which defeated Turkey in the First Balkan War in 1912 but were then to turn on each other in 1913 during the Second Balkan War, as a result of which Serbia doubled both its territory and population.